Obamacare's Unexpected Hero: Walgreens

Walgreens steps forward to help customers fill prescriptions and avoid gaps in care.

People walk by a Walgreens store on June 19, 2012, in San Francisco, Calif.
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This story was updated at 3:30 p.m.

CVS Caremark also announced  Tuesday that it will aid customers in certain circumstances who encounter temporary disruptions in their insurance coverage beginning  Jan. 1  by offering a 15-day or one month “transition or ‘bridge’ supply of medication.”

"Our pharmacy teams will provide information to help patients contact the appropriate health plan or insurance exchange, and we are actively communicating with insurance plans and government agencies to help minimize disruption to care whenever possible." said Helena Foulkes, president of CVS pharmacy, in a release.

CVS also offered to provide a bridge supply of medication “for patients who express financial hardship” so that they can continue their treatments while their coverage  issues are being addressed, the release said.

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This story was originally posted at 1:50 p.m.

Walgreens said Monday it will offer a month's supply of certain prescription drugs "at no upfront cost" to U.S. participants who have signed up for the Affordable Care Act, but have not received their identification numbers from their insurance companies, reports Reuters.

[READ: Obamacare Deadline Extended, Again]

"We understand that all the changes that come with health care reform may create some questions for newly enrolled individuals," said Kermit Crawford, president of pharmacy, health and wellness for Walgreens in a release. "We are deeply committed to helping these patients get, stay and live well by helping them to get their medications without interruption."

Walgreens' good deed coincides with what could be another thorny patch in the labyrinth that is the Obamacare rollout. As the newly insured but card-less consumers attempt to exercise their plans, they could find themselves paying out of pocket, reports CNN.

The delays, at least for the moment, can be pegged squarely on the government. Countless problems with the functionality of Healthcare.gov and the delivery of client data from the website to insurance providers, obliged the government to repeatedly delay the enrollment deadline, ultimately claiming a Dec. 24 cutoff for those seeking coverage Jan. 1. Due to problems with the back end of the website, insurance providers have received incomplete or incorrect information, and in the worst cases some customers who thought they were enrolled weren't.

Nearly 1 million customers registered on the federally run health exchanges in December, with the bulk of those individuals signing up in the final week. As a result, insurance companies have had scant time, just over a week in some cases, to process members' claims before Jan. 1.

This means that while these members may technically be insured, they may not have their golden tickets - health insurance ID cards- just yet.

"There's no question, it's a little bit complicated," Susan Millerick, an Aetna spokeswoman told CNN. "There could be a gap, which is regrettable, but at this point unavoidable."

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So to bridge the gap, America's largest drug store chain, Walgreens is telling cardless customers, help is available. Walgreens advised new members to bring proof of their Obamacare enrollment to its pharmacy, where they will receive up to a month of generic drugs without making any immediate payment. When customers have received their ID numbers, Walgreens will bill the insurance company, at which point the customer may have to pay whatever co-pay is due, Markeisha Marshall, Walgreens' spokeswoman told Reuters.

Walgreens has also asked insurance companies to send nightly updates of any new enrollments so that it can identify customers who do have ID numbers, reports CNN.

Walgreens said its prescription offer does not extend to "complex-therapy medications," according to Reuters.

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  • Updated 12/31/13: This story was updated to include comment from CVS Caremark.